Just Read… The Deaths of December, by Susi Holliday

The Deaths of December

Okay, it’s February, not December, but don’t let that put you off.

It looks like a regular advent calendar.

Until DC Becky Greene starts opening doors . . . and discovers a crime scene behind almost every one.

The police hope it’s a prank. Because if it isn’t, a murderer has just surfaced – someone who’s been killing for twenty years.

But why now? And why has he sent it to this police station?

As the country relaxes into festive cheer, Greene and DS Eddie Carmine must race against time to catch the killer. Because there are four doors left, and four murders will fill them . . .

It’s shaping up to be a deadly little Christmas.

This is Susi Holliday’s first book under her full name, rather than SJI Holliday. We’ve moved away from Banktoun in this Christmas standalone, which really doesn’t need to be read (or in my case, listened to whilst driving around a rainy Wales) at Christmas. And maybe this won’t be a standalone, because Susi has created some cracking characters in DC Becky Greene and DS Eddie Carmine.

Practice makes perfect, right? Well, that is very evident here. I’ve reviewed and enjoyed all of Susi’s previous books, but this really is her best yet. The concept is really very good, and the pace of the story feels just about perfect, with some nice ‘wow’ moments when you realise how some things and people are linked. Simple, yet very cleverly done.

A book is for life, not just Christmas. Right?

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Just Read… Cragside, by LJ Ross

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Not read. Listened to.

Are you afraid of the dark..?

After his climactic battle with notorious serial killer The Hacker, DCI Ryan is spending the summer with his fiancée within the grounds of Cragside, a spectacular Bavarian-style mansion surrounded by acres of woodland. When they are invited to attend the staff summer party – a Victorian murder mystery evening – it’s all a joke until the lights go out and an elderly man is found dead. It looks like an unfortunate accident but, as the dead man’s life begins to unfold, Ryan and his team of detectives realise that all is not as it appears.

When a second body is found, terror grips the close-knit community and Ryan must uncover the killer who walks among them, before they strike again…

Murder and mystery are peppered with romance and humour in this fast-paced crime whodunit set amidst the spectacular Northumbrian landscape. 

This is book 6 in the DCI Ryan mystery series, and although there is some backstory here (e.g. The Hacker and the ongoing consequences of dealing with him) it can be read as a standalone.

I enjoyed this book and the narration, by Jonathan Keeble, is spot on. Set in a stately home, there’s a bit of a feel of a classic detective story here, and indeed a number of the characters involved are not necessarily who they portray themselves as.

There are plenty of twists and turns and the story develops nicely. In fact, I’d forgotten the prologue until we were getting towards the end, and of course that was a key part of the tale (not that that snippet will help you solve the murder!).

All in all, a great (and satisfying) read.

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Just Read… Bad Sister, by Sam Carrington

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Then

When flames rip through their family home, only teenager Stephanie and her younger brother escape unhurt. Brett always liked to play with fire, but now their dad is dead and someone has to pay the price.

Now

Psychologist Connie Summers wants to help Stephanie rebuild her life. She has a new name, a young son and everything to live for. But when Stephanie receives a letter from someone she’d hoped would never find her, Connie is forced to question what really happened that night. But some truths are better left alone . . .

In this second psychological thriller from Sam Carrington, we’re dealing with both Stephanie and Connie who are trying to escape a past that just doesn’t want to let them go. Stephanie is hiding under a witness protection scheme, with Connie trying to help her deal with the past and adjust to a new life, but when Connie’s own past is thrown glaring into the spotlight, Stephanie wants to be reassigned to someone new. That doesn’t happen, and we soon start to fear for the safety of both characters.

Bad Sister is a character-driven novel that soon draws you in. Well written, plenty of intrigue, and enough twists and turns to keep you off-balance. A great book, and is out in paperback today!

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Just Read… Roam, By Erik Therme

Roam

Woah, I am so behind with reviews, so it’s catch-up time.

First up is Roam, by Erik Therme:

Three strangers, each searching for something out of reach.

Sarah Cate, celebrating her 21st birthday, is pushed over the edge after car trouble strands her in the middle of nowhere with an angry, unstable boyfriend.

Kevin Reed, a troubled adolescent abused by a loveless father, roams the night in his black Camaro, looking to pay forward one of the few acts of kindness he’s ever received.

Scotty Mason, plagued by profound guilt and completely detached from his world, is haunted by the unshakable fear that something inside him is dangerously broken and cannot be fixed.

When their lives intersect in an unsavoury hotel with a bloody history, all three will struggle to exorcise their personal demons, unaware that a bigger threat is looming… and waiting for the right moment to strike.

This was an Audible book, which I actually listened to at the start of November. Here’s what I thought of it then:

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And that tweet largely sums it up for me. As you might know, I’m a big Stephen King fan, with The Stand being my all-time favourite. And why? Well, it’s largely down to the way SK breathes life into his characters. They become real. And to me, it seemed that Erik Therme exercised the same skill in Roam.

Not a long book at four and a half hours, but a neat one. Separate stories soon start to intertwine, as the ‘three strangers’ find their paths are on a collision course. There was the odd moment where I did question the course of action one of the characters took, but those moments were brief and fleeting. None of these three lived ‘normal’ lives, and it is our experiences that make us. And often drive us.

The litmus test for me when I’m reading a novel is do I actually care about what happens to the people? In the case of Roam, the answer was, ‘Oh yes!’.

This was my first Erik Therme novel. I’m sure it won’t be my last.

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Just Read… Deep Down Dead, by Steph Broadribb

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Lori Anderson is as tough as they come, managing to keep her career as a fearless Florida bounty hunter separate from her role as single mother to nine-year-old Dakota, who suffers from leukaemia. But when the hospital bills start to rack up, she has no choice but to take her daughter along on a job that will make her a fast buck. And that’s when things start to go wrong. The fugitive she’s assigned to haul back to court is none other than JT, Lori’s former mentor – the man who taught her everything she knows … the man who also knows the secrets of her murky past.

Another brilliant debut. Another book I haven’t ‘just’ read, although I did read and not listen to it. Steph Broadribb’s debut has picked up glowing reviews from the likes of Lee Child, Ian Rankin and Mark Billingham, and it’s easy to see why. Her style reminds me of one of my favourite authors, Meg Gardiner, who also likes to pace her novels as… relentless. Well, not quite relentless, as both authors know just when to give the reader a breather. Probably like Commando training though, it’s not for long.

Lori Anderson, single-mother, bounty hunter, and somewhat your perfect protagonist. Forced to take on a high-paying job she really should steer clear of, things get complicated. Very complicated. But that isn’t really doing this story justice. Steph takes us along with Lori on a perilous mission, and accomplished writing really makes us feel it!

If you’ve not read this book, and you like your thrillers ‘breakneck’, you really, really should.

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Just Read… You Don’t Know Me, by Imran Mahmood

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It’s easy to judge between right and wrong – isn’t it?

Not until you hear a convincing truth.

Now it’s up to you to decide…

An unnamed defendant stands accused of murder. Just before the Closing Speeches, the young man sacks his lawyer, and decides to give his own defence speech.

He tells us that his barrister told him to leave some things out. Sometimes, the truth can be too difficult to explain, or believe. But he thinks that if he’s going to go down for life, he might as well go down telling the truth.

There are eight pieces of evidence against him. As he talks us through them one by one, his life is in our hands. We, the reader – member of the jury – must keep an open mind till we hear the end of his story. His defence raises many questions… but at the end of the speeches, only one matters: Did he do it?

This is another catch-up review, and one I listened to on Audible rather than read.  You Don’t Know Me is real-life lawyer, Imran Mahmood’s debut, brilliantly narrated by Adam Deacon. I hadn’t actually realised that the protagonist isn’t even named in the story until after I’d finished, it was that gripping. Reminded me a little of Stephen King’s Dolores Claiborne. That entire story is her non-stop monologue police interview following the discovery of her husband’s body. You Don’t Know Me is a similar monologue – in this case, our protagonist’s closing speech in his murder trial after he’s fired his barrister.

In order to convince the jury of his innocence in the face of seemingly overwhelming evidence, our protagonist tells his own story, right from the very start. Mahmood paints a vivid picture of the difficulties big city youth can face, especially those raised in areas of deprivation, and he does it with amazing skill. There are twists and turns aplenty, and some great characters.

I won’t give the ending away, but will leave you with this thought: a book is all about the journey, and this is one hell of a journey!

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Just Read… The Harbour Master, by Daniel Pembrey

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Henk van der Pol is a 30-year-term policeman, a few months off retirement. When he finds a woman’s body in Amsterdam Harbour, his detective instincts take over, even though it’s not his jurisdiction. Warned off investigating the case, Henk soon realises he can trust nobody, as his search for the killer leads him to discover the involvement of senior police officers, government corruption in the highest places, Hungarian people traffickers, and a deadly threat to his own family…

Whilst I’ve chosen ‘Just Read…’ as the standard lead in to book reviews, as a lot of the books I get through are on audio (although not this one) and a number are catching up on older, outstanding reviews (such as this one), then it’s becoming increasing regular that either ‘Just’ or ‘Read’ aren’t quite accurate. Never mind, I’m sticking with it.

The Harbour Master is one of those novels that does a brilliant job of completely transporting you to another place; in this case, Amsterdam. There are quite a few Dutch names (places and people), and I’m sure my mental pronunciation of them is awful, but they all add to the atmosphere. Daniel skilfully describes Amsterdam and creates a sense of place, but not at the cost of story.

As noted in the book blurb above, Henk van der Pol is approaching retirement, but he’s not planning on going quietly. When you’re a grizzled detective who’s discovered a body, what else are you going to do other than poke your nose in? But it’s soon clear that there are bigger things at play here, things that put Henk’s family’s life in apparent danger.

Daniel introduces some great characters in The Harbour Master, not least Henk van der Pol, and coupled with the sense of place I mentioned earlier, creates a story with a strong realism. I’m pleased to recommend this book, and have added its sequel, Night Market, to my TBR list.

 

 

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